The freestyle education of folkstyle star Ed Ruth

Updated: June 11, 2014

Editor’s Note: On May 31 and June 1, USA Wrestling hosted Phase I of the World Team Trials in Madison, Wisc., where 12 of the 24 spots on the 2014 World Team were filled in either men’s or women’s freestyle. Six Greco berths will be filled June 13 in Daytona Beach, Fla., while the remaining six spots over the three styles will be determined during the Junior/Cadet Nationals, July 19-24, in Fargo, N.D. In honor of this seven-week period of World Team Trials events, WIN is providing features on those who have qualified to compete in Uzbekistan in September.)

By Mike Finn

No Penn State wrestler enjoyed more success in a Nittany Lion career than Ed Ruth, who this past March became the first PSU wrestler to win three NCAA championships in college folkstyle.

But when it came to winning at a similar-high level in men’s freestyle, the 23-year-old native of Harrisburg, Pa., admitted he had a lot to learn.

“Freestyle is more aggressive and explosive. Folkstyle is more controlled,” said Ruth, who finished third in last April’s U.S. Open at 86 kilograms (189 pounds), but realized he had a lot to work on if he wanted to finish higher at this year’s World Team Trials on June 1 in Madison, Wisc.

“Freestyle you have to be aware where you are every second of the match. You have to make sure you’re not exposing your back and giving up cheap points. Something like that can really wear on you.”

That was never more true than when he scored plenty of points during the U.S. Open, but gave up plenty of points, especially when he lost a semifinal bout to Clayton Foster, 13-12. Fast forward five weeks later in Madison, and Ruth avenged that loss to the former Oklahoma State All-American, 7-3, in the finals of the Trials Challenge Tournament.

That victory earned him a spot in the Championship Series against 2013 World Team member Keith Gavin, who used Ruth’s freestyle inexperience to win the first in the best-of-three bouts, 7-5.

But Ruth proved he was a quick learner and rallied to first pin Gavin in 3:44 of Bout 2, before prevailing 11-7 in the third and deciding bout to earn Ruth his first ever spot in this September’s World Championships in Uzbekistan.

“In the first match, I didn’t know what to expect,” Ruth admitted. “Everything was going my way until the last part. I figured the other two matches would go my way. I just had to fight my way through.

“I just laid it on him harder (after the first bout). I figured if one of us breaks, one of us breaks.”

Fortunately for Ruth, he has coaches Cael Sanderson and Casey Cunningham in the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club to help him learn the freestyle game.

“(Sanderson) knows how to set you up mentally,” Ruth said. “He tells me all the things to get my confidence up. He inspires me every second of the way.”

“After that (U.S. Open) performance, I went back into the room and trained like crazy. When something like that happens, it showed me I am right there with those guys and proved I could hang with them.”

“In folkstyle, you can roll around and end up on top,” said Cunningham. “Here if you roll around, you might have given up four or six points. He’s making the adjustment quick because he wants to.

“He made the choice that he wants to be the best in the world in freestyle. You saw the difference from the U.S. Open to here in a five-week period. If he keeps making that progress, he could be a real scare (at the Worlds).”

Ruth is very honest about the task he will face at the World Championships.

“I have no idea,” Ruth said. “Those guys wrestle a different style. I’m willing to show them my style. I feel like I’m having a lot of fun out there.”

“We do a lot of film watching,” Cunningham said. “(Ruth) will see those styles in our room and guys will become his opponents so he’ll be ready.”